Greg Holmes was just four matches into his maiden season with the Queensland Reds when the rookie prop asked himself if he really wanted to play Super Rugby.
The seed of doubt followed what he described as a “fair touch up” handed out by a star-studded Highlanders front row – containing the likes of All Blacks bookend Carl Hayman – when the Reds’ forward pack was pushed around Ballymore during a 23-16 loss midway through the 2005 season.
Holmes, then 21, chose to persevere and on Friday night he will make his 144th and final Super Rugby appearance for the Reds when they meet the Melbourne Rebels at Lang Park.
He will take up a two-year contract with Exeter in the English premiership later this year, leaving the Reds as a member of their 2011 championship-winning squad and their most-capped player in Super Rugby history.
Holmes, who has played 27 Tests for Australia, recalled the meeting with Hayman and the Highlanders earlier this week when reflecting on his decorated career with the Reds.
The 33-year-old will leave the Reds in career-best form and he admits he is glad he “stuck in and got through it”, although at the time he had reservations.
“They’re [the Highlanders match] little things I remember,” Holmes told the media at Ballymore on Wednesday.
“Every time I train out there [Ballymore] I remember the first game [at home], it was a packed house and … we got pushed around all over the place.
“It’s funny you don’t always remember the good things, you remember the tough times as well and that’s one that is ingrained in my head.”
Holmes ‘very proud’ of Reds and Wallabies career
There were many “tough times” during Holmes’ career with the Reds, as at several stages he appeared to be on the outer.
He was forced to warm the reserves bench for much of the Reds’ victorious 2011 campaign before starting tighthead prop James Slipper sustained an ankle injury in the final round of the regular season.
Holmes, switching from loosehead to tighthead prop, stepped up to the plate and anchored the Reds scrum when they beat the Crusaders 18-13 in a thrilling final at Lang Park for their first Super Rugby title in 16 years.
His Test career was also punctuated by highs and lows, beginning in 2005 but marked by an eight-year absence from the Wallabies until he was brought back in from the cold by Michael Cheika last year.
He played in all but one of the Wallabies’ matches at the 2015 World Cup and appeared in every Test of the recent series against England.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve done here over my career and as it’s coming to an end I’m not sad about it at all,” said Holmes, a product of Toowoomba’s Downlands College.
“I’m probably just proud of what I’ve done, proud of the time I’ve spent here. I’ve made a lot of very good friends here that I’ll have forever.”
Holmes to leave ‘everlasting legacy’ at Reds
The length of Holmes’ time with the Reds is illustrated by the fact he and current co-coach Nick Stiles were once room-mates together on a tour of New Zealand.
Stiles, a prop who played 12 Tests for the Wallabies, joked it was “many moons ago” and he too was subjected to the force of the Highlanders front row that night at Ballymore 11 years ago.
He is well-placed to comment on Holmes’ development at both provincial and international level and he believes his former team-mate will go down as one of the Reds’ all-time greats.
“To see the growth in Holmesy from that time to now and probably his ability to continue to work hard has been an everlasting legacy I suppose he leaves with this group moving forward,” Stiles said.
Holmes will not be the only Red making their farewell on Friday night, with Liam Gill (Toulon), Curtis Browning (Lyon), Saia Fainga’a (Brumbies) and Ben Daley (Western Force) also departing the club.
Topics: super-rugby, rugby-union, sport, brisbane-4000, toowoomba-4350
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